Coming of Age
If The Lion King is anything, it's a coming-of-age story: we're watching a young cub grow into an adult lion and assume all of the responsibilities that come with adult lionhood.
Although coming-of-age stories are about kids, kids aren't their only audience. James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which chronicles the young life of Stephen Dedalus, is one of the most famous coming-of-age stories in the Western canon. Portrait has a whole lot more adult themes in it than The Lion King. So does Hermann Hesse's Beneath the Wheel, another excellent coming-of-age story. But don't take our word for it: read them yourself!
And, let's not forget about the very famous coming-of-age story The Lion King is based on: Hamlet.
When his father was killed, Hamlet the Melancholy Dane was but a wee lad unsure of his place in the world. But, as he grows and matures, he better understands those around him … especially whom to trust when it comes to politics and power. Likewise, Simba grows up to realize that the uncle he thought he could trust had been tricking him all along.
You know that old saying: "With age comes experience. And with experience comes the ability to doubt your uncle."
This family loves drama. Constant drama. It's a miracle this movie wasn't actually titled The Drama King (although that might be a better title for Scar's biopic).
Simba comes from a royal family, which means he comes from mad power. His father is estranged from his brother, a conniving and power-hungry lion who wants to rule the Pride Lands. Simba is a naïve and easily manipulated prince—at least while he's still a little cub. If that doesn't spell family drama and intrigue, then we're not sure what does.
Since a family drama is basically just a drama that centers around a family or family conflict, plenty of stories qualify for this category. Shakespeare wrote a ton of them: there's Hamlet, which we've already mentioned a bajillion times, and then there's King Lear, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet: all are tragedies involving inter-familial greed and power.
But not every family drama has to be about the struggle for power—some families just go crazy. Ever read The Sound and the Fury? It's basically just about a family imploding.
Although The Lion King may be about some pretty serious stuff, it's still on the lighthearted side. After all, how serious can a movie about a bunch of talking animals actually be?
A lot of the characters in the film are designed to be inherently hilarious. Zazu is an uptight talking bird with a British accent. From the moment they enter the scene, Timon and Pumbaa provide much of The Lion King's slapstick. You've got to admit there's a lot LOL-worthy about a meerkat riding on the back of a giant warthog. And the hyenas get their share of the slapstick action, too: Banzai ends up with a ton of thorns in his butt, and Ed is always rolling on the ground and laughing insanely.
While The Lion King may not be a straight-up comedy, it's still got enough comedic elements to place it in the genre. It's got this in common with a lot of Disney movies. Remember Aladdin? That was a movie about a princess and a pauper defying all of the odds to be together. But it was also about a young man's relationship with a crazy genie who does Jack Nicholson impressions.
And The Little Mermaid may be another love story, but it could just as easily be a buddy comedy about Ariel and her friend Sebastian, the wisecracking crab.